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Phoning it in: Telepharmacy connects rural patients

SHOSHONE — For the first time in 15 years, Shoshone residents don't have to travel to another town to get their prescription medications.

Shoshone Pharmacy opened Dec. 22 on South Apple Street. But it’s not your average pharmacy.

The owner says it’s the first telepharmacy in Idaho to open from the ground up — meaning it’s not affiliated with an existing hospital or clinic. It allows an off-site pharmacist to approve orders remotely and do consultations with patients using live video conferencing.

It will allow Shoshone’s 1,500 residents to fill prescription medications they rely on without having to travel to another town.

“It’s bringing pharmacy back to rural Idaho,” owner/pharmacist Jason Reading said.

And beyond Shoshone, many Magic Valley hospitals use telemedicine services and are looking to expand their offerings.

Shoshone used to have a brick-and-mortar pharmacy, but it closed in the early 2000s because of diminished reimbursements on prescriptions, Reading said.

That problem has continued to this day, he added, but he’s able to operate a new telepharmacy by using technology to reduce staffing costs.

So far, there has been “a really good response,” Reading said, but he’d love to see more people use the pharmacy. “A lot of people don’t know we’re here.”

Shoshone resident Clair Granquist has been to the pharmacy multiple times and said she’s “very excited” it’s in town. Recently, her children got sick and then she picked up a virus.

“I really like them,” she said about Shoshone Pharmacy. “I don’t see any reason for me to travel unless there’s a medication they don’t have.”

The staff is “incredibly friendly,” Granquist added, and they recognized her fairly quickly.

Before the new pharmacy opened, Granquist drove to Ridley's Family Markets in Gooding to fill prescriptions.

“It was such a pain,” she said, to drive 17 miles each way out of town. And if your child has pink eye and is screaming, “the last thing you want to do is go out of town and carry them into a grocery store.”

After coming up with the idea for a telepharmacy, Reading got approval from the Idaho Board of Pharmacy.

The board allows telepharmacies only in towns where there isn’t a brick-and-mortar pharmacy, Reading said. “It’s a great opportunity for small towns.”

The Idaho legislature passed a bill in 2015 — which was signed into law — outlining benefits and the acceptable use of telemedicine in Idaho. It still relies on regulatory boards, though, to provide oversight.

Reading — who also owns Gooding Pharmacy and R&R Pharmacy in Jerome — chose Shoshone for a telepharmacy because he saw a lot of the town’s residents at his other locations.

Shoshone Pharmacy is staffed by two technicians at a time. “It runs just like a normal pharmacy,” Reading said. A pharmacist is often on site two or three days a week, too.

Drug utilization reviews are handled remotely by a pharmacist in Gooding. Once that’s done, a pharmacy technician in Shoshone gets an OK on a computer screen to dispense medication to a patient.

Idaho law requires a consultation with a pharmacist for every new prescription medication a patient receives.

At Shoshone Pharmacy, there’s a separate room for consultations with chairs and a wall-mounted flat-screen monitor.

With the touch of a button, the system allows patients to communicate with a pharmacist in Gooding using a two-way audio and video feed.

Dr. Keith Davis, a family medicine physician at Shoshone Family Medical Center, said it’s great to have a pharmacy in town again.

“It’s right across the street, which is very convenient for my patients and anyone who needs a prescription filled,” he said.

Davis starting pursuing a telepharmacy project in Shoshone through Idaho State University’s Bengal Pharmacy. But then he heard about Reading's plans.

Before Shoshone Pharmacy opened, some patients weren’t able to fill prescriptions, Davis said, especially when road conditions weren’t good.

And Davis was using a system called Allscripts — approved by the Idaho Board of Pharmacy — to allow him to dispense certain medications at his office.

He had a small inventory of medications, such as antibiotics. “It wasn’t for ongoing chronic medications, but for acute illness,” he said.

But now, he plans to let Shoshone Pharmacy take the lead on dispensing medications. 

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